BY JEFF FALK
(Editor’s note: On Saturday, Lebanon’s Jamie Beyerle-Gray just missed out on an Olympic medal, placing fifth in the women’s 10-meter air rifle competition, the first event in the London Games to award medals.)
Jamie Beyerle-Gray has always been one to shoot for the moon. Perhaps it’s because she realizes that if she misses she’ll land among the stars.
Of course, Beyerle-Gray rarely misses what she’s aiming for.
As a member of the United States Olympic team, Beyerle-Gray has ascended to the height of her discipline and sport – shooting. Or maybe a better way of putting Beyerle-Gray’s accomplishment into perspective would be to consider the fact that she is one of only a handful of Lebanon County natives to ever qualify for the pinnacle of athletic competition in the world.
“Honestly, the best part of the Olympics is being part of Team USA,” said Gray, by phone from her home near Fort Benning, Georgia recently. “It’s hard to explain the feeling. In ’08, the people competing in my event just walked into the stadium during the opening ceremonies, but we couldn’t stay because we had to compete. It’s an amazing feeling marching into the stadium.”
Beyerle-Gray, who competed in rifle shooting at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, is undeniably one of the top female marks-persons in the world. Before matriculating to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks – one of the finest institutions for her sport in the country – Gray grew up playing soccer, softball and basketball in Lebanon County, and her parents Karen and Rod still reside here.
Beyerle-Gray began shooting BB gun at the age of eight and did a lot of her early shooting through the Palmyra Sportsmen’s Club.
“It’s interesting because there’s actually less competitors at the Olympic Games,” said Beyerle-Gray, who at the age of 28 is a veteran of international competitions. “The only time we get media attention outside of our sport is the Olympics. It’s about Team USA. It’s about everyone coming together as a nation and competing together.”
Gray has qualified for two shooting events at the London Olympics, which will open on Friday, July 27 – the women’s 10-meter air rifle and the women’s 50-meter three-position rifle. Beyerle-Gray will compete in the air rifle event at 6 a.m. eastern time on Saturday, July 28 and the competition can be seen on the NBC sports network.
She will compete in the three-position rifle event at 7:45 a.m. eastern time on Saturday, August 4.
“Honestly, everyone talks about medaling, but it’s more about doing your best,” said Beyerle-Gray, whose list of international accomplishments is longer than her arm. “For me, the goal is to go in there and have a good performance. The focus is on me and the target. That’s all I can do. And hopefully that’s good enough.
“So many people get wrapped up in outward goals,” continued Beyerle-Gray. “The thing you can control is your performance. You can look at the competition, who the heavy hitters are, but it really doesn’t matter. The unique thing about shooting is that it’s 100-percent an individual sport. It’s you and the target. If someone shoots a world record, you can’t do anything about it. You’re competing against yourself.”
Beyerle-Gray literally came within less than an inch of medaling at the Beijing Olmypics. She came in fourth in the 10-meter air rifle competition and was fifth in the 50-meter three-position rifle, her strongest event.
“It was pretty exciting to go to the Olympic Games, start so rough and come on so strong,” said Gray of her performance in the 10-meter air rifle in 2008. “In the three-position, my last shot in the final was bad or I would’ve had a medal. It was a couple of tenths of a point, a couple of millimeters. That’s shooting. You’re shooting to tens. As competitors, we complain when we shoot 9.9s. It shows you how close you were to the ten-ring.
“With my fourth-place finish in the air gun, I was actually ecstatic,” Gray continued. “I wasn’t expected to make the finals. I was really happy. I couldn’t argue with it. In the small bore, it was a lot harder to take because my last shot wasn’t great. But I can’t be disappointed showing up at the Olympics and shooting my personal international best. I just got beat that day. You can’t beat yourself up.”
Though a veteran in her sport, Beyerle-Gray is still a relatively young competitor.
“I would hope I’m a better shooter now than I was in ’08,” said Beyerle-Gray. “That’s what we work for every day. We try to get better every day. I’d like to think I have a few more tricks in my bag. Yeah, I’m a better shooter. But does that mean I’m going to go out and shoot better than 2008? It comes down to that day.
“The thing about shooting is that people don’t think we have injuries,” added Beyerle-Gray. “I actually had a bad back in 2010, I’ve been rehabbing it and it still isn’t great. There’s definitely things that come up. As far as my eye-sight, I definitely don’t think I see as well as before, but we wear corrective lenses. As you get older, the harder it is for the body to recover. Your body just doesn’t take to things as well as it used to. But I try not to dwell on it.”
“After the Olympic Games I will decide what I’m going to do,” said Beyerle-Gray. “I’m not old for my sport. But personally I don’t know if that’s what I want to do. I’ve been coaching down here (as an assistant for the Columbus State University rifle team), and I love coaching. I love to being able to pass my knowledge on to young people.”